Billy Budd
by Herman Melville
Editor's Introduction The Text Glossary Nautical References Allusions Manuscript Notes Warships Biography Bibliography Links

Introduction: Before launching into the text, visit this page to find out how the site is designed and what principles guide any inclusions (or exclusions)
The Text: The centerpiece of the site, this is the full text of Melville's Billy Budd based largely on Raymond Weaver's 1924 edition of the novel. (Click here for Weaver's introduction.) The text on this website, however, does differ in some significant ways from Weaver's text. Please feel free to explore other sites to better understand the set up of this interactive edition.
Glossary: Melville's diction is quite sophisticated; but this does not mean that one cannot understand the novel. It simply means that you need to take the time to gain control of any words that are unclear. Throughout the text, clicking words highlighted in blue leads to a list of definitions.
Allusions: Part of the complexity of Billy Budd arises from the intricate series of allusions that lurk behind virtually every line of imagery Melville employs. This page, also accessible from the text by clicking on any words in red, groups allusions into historical, biblical, and mythical lines.
Nautical References: Melville does not only employ his knowledge of historical, biblical, and mythical allusions; he also utilizes a specific vocabulary of the sea gained from his personal experiences. By clicking on words highlighted in green, you can access this list.
Manuscript: When Raymond Weaver edited the first edition of Billy Budd in 1924, he unleashed a manuscript that has grown with a life of its own. There is no absolute agreement on how the novel should be organized or presented. Visit this page to find out more about the complex history of this brilliant novel.
Warships: This novel is set rather specifically on a type of warship (a "Seventy-four") during a particular time (the Napoleonic Wars). Melville is keenly aware of this. This page helps introduce the world of the man-of-war through a series of images.
Biography: In many ways, Melville's life led him inevitably to write Billy Budd. After enjoying incredible mid-century popularity -- especially after publishing Moby Dick -- Melville slipped into literary obscurity. He even gave up writing as a career. Only toward the end of his life did he seriously take up the pen once again. This page offers a brief, but revealing, look at Herman Melville.
Bibliography: This page offers both a short commentary on the types of sources used in building these pages, as well as a more formal bibliography of useful sources for Melville research.
Links: Although some links are more useful than others, look at these popular Melville/Billy Budd links.
Coming soon . . .
Variations: Over the past seventy years, the various editions of this novel have produced strikingly different texts. This page tracks some of the points where the editions vary most markedly. Understanding how different people have organized this confusing manuscript can perhaps help students of Melville better understand the work he produced.
Commentary: This page offers my own readings of what I consider to be central passages from Billy Budd. By no means authoritative readings, they might help students of all levels at least recognize the potential readings of some of the more difficult parts.
Interpretations: Both because of its inherent complexity and because of its convoluted publication history, Billy Budd has long engaged readers. Thus, it has produced a variety of critical responses and artistic interpretations. This page offers an overview of the critical history of Billy Budd; it also discusses how the interpretations of this novel have been depicted in opera, on stage, and in the movies.

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